It was May 7 and the Dragons Rhondorf had one game left. It wasn’t just any kind of game, but a do or die game in Bernau 694 kilometers away from their living room in Bad Honnef. All the hard work that the club had put in this season came down to a damn 40 minute game. The loser would be regulated to the Regionalliga. The Dragons Rhondorf had a good start leading 12-6, but then came a severe break down where it seemed like the Dragons had gotten their mouth closed and that fierce throwing fire that they are known to do was halted. And from that point, Lok Bernau took control of the game and ran to the finish line with the 84-69 victory. The Dragons Rhondorf picked up their game again, but Lok Bernau had done the needed damage and the Dragons couldn’t recover. The Dragons Rhondorf suffered that typical season dilemma that had plagued them all season long with having to get over the hump and always using more and more energy. This scene happened so often this season where the Dragons Rhondorf were trailing and just couldn’t get over the hump. It was a sad evening in Bernau. Tears were flowing like a waterfall, but what do expect from a team that played with heart all season long. ‘Everything was missing in Bernau. They were better than us in many areas and deserved to win. Unfortunately we missed many well played out shots. If our three’s aren’t falling, then we always had problems the entire season’, stated Dragons head coach Julius Thomas. Fight defined the 2021-2022 Dragons Rhondorf, but massive youth and not getting over the hump plagued them all season long and sent them back to the Regionalliga.
It was no secret that the season wouldn’t be an easy one as the organization communicated early on that it would go with the youth. Even if the club did get American Will Christmas for the season as the lone import spot, their cooperation ended early as they decided to keep their import choice with Senegal sensation Ousmane Ndiaje. So just like in the 20-21 season, the club went with no American import taking on the risk of not getting that guaranteed high power scoring and versatile play that players often give. The team was very young with an average age of 19 years and the first game rapidly showed that the season wouldn’t be easy. The club had one experienced player with Paul Albrecht (208-PF-1993) who had had 162 pro A games experience. The club got destroyed at home against top team Munster 107-74 and a week later were tortured in Wedel 88-48. But a week later, the club experienced their first big success moment with a massive 69-68 victory over the TKS 49ers. But that fury of success wasn’t able to power the team to new heights then as it would lose five of it’s next seven games and were early near the bottom of the standings. A big problem was their defense as they allowed 80 plus points in every loss. Their biggest problem was discipline, consistency and 1-1 defense. If they could of reached an identity on defense earlier in the season, they probably would have won a few more games as they were a talented offensive team, but when you score 78 points a game and can’t defend consistently, you will have problems winning games. ‘The Pro B is a totally different level than Regionalliga or NBBL. The Pro B is a lot more physical. We couldn’t get used to that at all at the start. We also were punished with allowing many baskets out of our turnovers. But with time we did improve that’, commented Julius Thomas.
Then came a good span where they won three in a row including beating top team Wolmirstedt. They defended more aggressively and played with more passion on the defensive end, but they couldn’t hold the momentum. After that they lost 7 of 8 games where their season was ultimately decided. They would have to play in the playdowns. In this weak phase, the club began to get back into bad habits and just give up too many points. They would be down by 7-8 points in the fourth quarter and lose many games not being able to get over the hump. Youth and experience and not having the needed energy was their downfall in these times. ‘WE weren’t able to turn around games often this season. Our wins were usually when we began well and finished strong. If I would of known an answer, I would of changed it’, added Julius Thomas. They proved that they had heart and those fighting qualities as they chipped away at the end in the playdowns and won 4 of the last 6 games. But it is ironic that they were able to sweep the season home series against Bernau, but in the most vital game of the season against Bernau, couldn’t get the job done on the road. Besides the defensive woes and being in the hole to often in the fourth quarter, this team was just too young to be able to compete in the Pro B. The club did haul in identity figure Viktor Frankel-Maus in December, but having only Frankl-Maus and Albrecht as those hardcore veterans wasn’t enough. Most other Pro B teams had much more experience and those players that could take on responsibility and make the right decisions in crunch-time. What also was disappointing was that BBL cooperation team Telekom Baskets Bonn didn’t have more faith in the young players and give them more minutes in the BBL. The only player that saw a little action at the BBL level was Marek Kotieno. When you look at a team like Lok Bernau, they not only had guys playing for Alba Berlin, but had 3 NBBL youth players that had distinctive roles on the pro B team. Guys like Aydinoglu, Lademacher and Schulte were immense during the season. That is also a reason why Alba Berlin is favorite to win the 2022 NBBL title. Young players don’t only develop further getting minutes at the Pro B level, but also with seeing BBL minutes. ‘It is difficult to give a season summary as there is still a lot of disappointment after the loss on Saturday. In a few days we will sit together and see what can be improved. We had a strong development this season. When you compare the first games to the last games, it was a very much i9mproved team’, stressed head coach Julius Thomas.
Making a season summary of the players is never easy especially when you move down. Nicolas Buchholz averaged 17.3ppg, 2.3rpg, 1.6apg, 1.0spg, FGP: 49.5%, 3PT: 37.0%, FT: 81.8%. After playing with the Rostock Seawolves and playing only 12 Pro A games, he took a step back to play Pro B. He made a good development taking the opportunity to be that go to guy at the Pro B level. He proved that scoring in double figures in 19 games and scoring 20 points or more in 10 games in 31 minutes per game including 31 points against Iserlohn. So often he hit big shots in crucial moments. he could be seen as one dimensional as a scorer so now it’s time to make the next step in other areas of his game like rebounding and facilitating. Playing another season in the Pro B could help his development instead of going right back to the pro A. Paul Albrecht who developed the best this season in the eyes of head coach Julius Thomas averaged 12.5ppg, 8.0rpg, 2.6apg, FGP: 51.3%, 3PT: 39.1%, FT: 72.3%. He was the team’s heart and soul this season and held it together as best he could. In weak phases his scoring in bunches would give the team new energy. His relentless work in the paint and always helping to make his teammates better was refreshing. He was always the first guy getting his teammates into a huddle to get new motivation. He scored in double figures in 17 games and had 7 double doubles. Who could forget his magical triple double against Bernau. He finished the season strong scoring in double figures in the last 9 games. Keeping him has to be a big priority. Oshane Drews averaged 11,7ppg, 4,1rpg and 4,7apg and had 1,6spg and shot 29% from outside. After being up and down and having a lull between January and March, he made huge strides in the last two months. He felt that he had to take on more responsibility and was a big factor in the offense. He scored in double figures in 8 of his last 9 games including 23 and 22 points in crucial playdown wins over Hamburg. His drive is almost unstoppable and he is a fierce defender that can be that lock down defender. Getting a more consistent three pointer and touching up his facilitating will help him reach the next level. Viktor Frankl-Maus averaged 8.4ppg, 2.8rpg, 4.3apg, 1.4spg, FGP: 48.1%, 3PT: 29.1%, FT: 64.3%. He played an Ok season, but more scoring punch and consistency was missing for me which he had showed in Munich and in previous years in Rhondorf. He scored in double figures in seven games. If his leadership qualities had been present since day one of the season, then the season may have gone in a totally different direction. Marek Kotieno averaged 8,0ppg, 3,9rpg and 1,3apg and shot 38% from outside. He scored in double figures in 8 games. It is no secret that he is a modern day forward. He continues to grow as an outside shooter and run the break well, but I would have liked to have seen more physicality inside. That balance just isn’t there. It seems like he won’t get a real chance from the Telekom Baskets Bonn. Maybe it’s time to settle on a Pro A career. There are enough Pro A teams with interest.
It is a shame that Covid disallowed fans in Rhondorf to see more of Ousmane Ndiaye who is one of the biggest talents in Europe for the year 2004. He played only 26 games in the last 3 seasons. This season he averaged 8.6ppg, 7.5rpg, 1.4apg, 1.5bpg, FGP: 55.8%, 3PT: 31.1%, FT: 52.6% and scored in double figures in 8 games. He had a solid season that was hurt a bit by injury in the second half that slowed his development. He had some big games against Hamburg with 13/20 stats, 18/14 stats against Wolmirstedt and 17/16 stats against Schwelm. He played 30 plus minutes six times and when he got minutes, he proved that he could fill the stat sheet like no other. He is a versatile offensive player and lock down defender. His three pointer is still a work in progress. He is already on NBA Mock draft lists for the 2023 NBA draft. He should make the next step and play elsewhere next season. Ralph Honnou averaged 7,4ppg, 1,3rpg and 1,1apg and shot 28% from outside. He had a solid season despite injuries woes and averaged 15 minutes. As a young player, consistency was missing, but his winning mentality and neverending fight qualities was very refreshing. His drive continues to be his weapon. He still has a lot of potential. The club should keep him. Bruno Albrecht averaged 8,4ppg, 1,8rpg and 2,3apg and shot 37% from the parking lot. Unfortunately his season was cut short as he missed more than three months. It wasn’t easy in the first few months finding a good spot in the crowded guard rotation, but he did the most of his minutes. He continues to show that he can be that explosive scorer and trustworthy facilitator. He needs to stay healthy and consistency will come with experience. He is an interesting project and should be kept. Esli Edigin continues to be an incredible raw prospect. I remember Yassin Idbihi raving about him in 2020 before he had even worn a Rhondorf jersey. The kid just turned 17 and already has shown special talent at age 16. He averaged 4,9ppg and 1,3rpg in 16 minutes per game. He scored in double figures in 6 games. His athleticism is great and he has all the pieces to becoming a good player. He also should be kept. Marcelo Ruediger from Brazil averaged 5,4ppg and 4,6rpg. He came late to the team and needed time to adjust to the European game. He had some good games against Muenster scoring 11 points and averaged 11/7 in the two playdown games against Hamburg. He helped the team in the paint with rebounding. Unfortunately his foot problems probably will only allow him a few more years to play before he has to retire. From the young kids Sam Nellessen, Kai Mueller, Robin Straub, Michael Ejumeta and Lars Brodisch, Nellessen made the biggest strides. He showed in enough games that he was aggressive and would take big shots. Julius Thomas did a fine job in his first full season as head coach with the Dragons. His zeal for the game and knowledge for his young age was always present. His coaching talent should further be realized with the club. So what is the next step for the Dragons Rhondorf? Heading back to the Regionalliga is disappointing, but staying in the Pro B because of other teams not opting to remain in the Pro B could give the Dragons the chance to remain in the Pro B. With Giessen heading to the Pro A and most likely not keeping their Pro B team could mean that Rhondorf will be able to remain in the Pro B. The next months will be interesting to follow in what direction the club will go.